Giff Smith

Coaching Notes: Patriots, Raiders, Jets, Dolphins

Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo worked in tandem to guide the Patriots defense during Bill Belichick‘s final years in New England. With the older Belichick gone and Mayo having been promoted to head coach, the younger Belichick was facing an uncertain future with the organization. While there were some rumblings that Mayo was interested in keeping Steve Belichick on staff, the Patriots linebackers coach is set to interview for a job at the University of Washington, according to ESPN’s Field Yates.

While the Patriots didn’t have a traditional defensive coordinator in recent years, Belichick and Mayo were both credited with running the group. Steve Belichick was the defensive play-caller over each of the past four seasons, leading some pundits to wonder if he could earn a promotion to full-time DC with Mayo now leading the way. There were also rumblings that the younger Belichick could join his father in a new landing spot. Ultimately, neither of those scenarios came to fruition, and Steve Belichick is now eyeing a role elsewhere.

Patriots RB coach Vinnie Sunseri is also set to interview with the University of Washington. The coach has experience working on both sides of the ball, and he worked alongside Jedd Fisch when the two were in New England.

Elsewhere on the Patriots staff, assistant special teams coach Joe Houston is leaving for the University of Florida, according to Charean Williams of Houston was set to be named Alabama’s special teams coach in 2020, but the Patriots convinced him to join their coaching staff. He’s spent the past four seasons in New England.

More coaching notes from around the NFL…

  • The Raiders are hiring DeShaun Foster as their new running backs coach, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. After finishing his playing career with more than 4,500 yards from scrimmage, Foster joined UCLA’s staff in 2012. He’s spent most of the past 12 seasons with the Bruins, including the past seven as their running backs coach. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport adds that he expects the Raiders to also add Andre Carter to their staff. The former first-round pick previously served as the Jets defensive line coach.
  • The Jets have added Shawn Jefferson as their new wide receivers coach, according to Josina Anderson. Jefferson has been coaching since 2006, and he’s had stints as the WRs coach with the Lions, Titans, Dolphins, Jets, Cardinals, and (most recently) the Panthers. He had a previous stint with New York’s coaching staff, serving as the WRs coach/assistant head coach in 2019 and 2020.
  • The Dolphins are making some significant changes to their coaching staff. According to NFL Network’s Cameron Wolfe, the organization has parted ways with offensive assistant Kolby Smith. Wolfe adds that offensive assistant Ricardo Allen, offensive assistant Mike Judge, and assistant special teams coach Brendan Farrell also won’t be back in 2024. Smith is a somewhat notable departure. After working alongside RB coach Eric Studesville this past season, he was interviewed for the Jaguars RB coach job.
  • The Rams have hired Giff Smith as their defensive line coach/run game coordinator, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The long-time coach had been with the Chargers since 2016, serving as defensive line coach and linebackers coach. He took on the role of interim head coach this past season following the firing of Brandon Staley, with the Chargers going winless in his three games at the helm. Per Pelissero, a number of teams reached out to Smith about joining their staffs, but the coach ultimately decided to stick in Los Angeles.

2024 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker

The Commanders’ hire has wrapped this year’s cycle. Barring a team making an 11th-hour change, the 2024 HC carousel has come to a stop. The final breakdown produced five defensive coaches being hired compared to three with backgrounds on offense. Many teams are still searching for offensive and defensive coordinators, however.

Updated 2-1-24 (10:37am CT)

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

New England Patriots

  • Jerod Mayo, linebackers coach (Patriots): Hired

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Commanders

Kellen Moore, Giff Smith On Chargers’ HC Interview List

2:51pm: The Chargers also announced interim HC Giff Smith received an interview. Interim coaches often receive a chance to keep the job, but no interim tag has been removed since the Jaguars made Doug Marrone their full-time HC in 2017. Smith has been with the Chargers since 2016, mostly as defensive line coach, but is probably not a serious candidate to land the full-time HC gig.

2:09pm: Kellen Moore‘s move from Dallas to Los Angeles did not result in a Chargers uptick on offense, though the young offensive coordinator was not exactly dealt a great hand. Even after a wildly disappointing Bolts season that ended with the firings of Brandon Staley and Tom Telesco, the team is not done with Moore yet.

The Bolts are planning to interview Moore for their vacant HC job, Jeremy Fowler of tweets. This comes shortly after a report indicated Moore, 34, was unlikely to be under consideration for the HC position. But Chargers ownership will give the four-year Cowboys play-caller a chance.

Los Angeles dropped from 13th to 21st in scoring offense from 2022-23, but Justin Herbert‘s injury played a significant role in that. However, Herbert had not consistently shown his superstar-caliber talent under Moore for most of the season. The Chargers played most of the year without Mike Williams and All-Pro center Corey Linsley. Keenan Allen missed the team’s final games, while Austin Ekeler and Josh Palmer missed chunks of the season as well. Injuries are nothing new for the Bolts, and they had not previously ranked outside the top 20 in scoring offense since 2016.

The Chargers fired Joe Lombardi after two seasons, one of them a campaign (2021) in which Herbert was voted the AFC’s Pro Bowl starting QB. Dak Prescott also put together his best season after Moore’s Dallas exit, but the longtime Cowboys passer was productive in 2021 under Moore as well. Prescott’s return from injury that season produced a handful of HC interviews for the former NFL backup QB. Moore did not land any, but the Chargers hired him less than 24 hours after the Cowboys split.

Cooper Rush also kept the car on the road for the Cowboys during a Prescott injury hiatus in 2022, and the Cowboys respectively ranked first and fourth in scoring in 2021 and ’22. Despite an 8-8 season that led to Jason Garrett’s firing, Moore — elevated to the team’s play-caller at just 30 — guided Dallas to a sixth-place offensive finish in 2019. That prompted ownership to insist Mike McCarthy keep Moore. That partnership eventually fizzled, but Moore should still be in the mix for OC jobs — in the likely event he does not land the Chargers’ HC position.

Courtesy of PFR’s Head Coaching Search Tracker, here is how the Chargers look on the HC carousel so far:

Chargers Fire Brandon Staley, Tom Telesco

Following the Raiders’ historic rout of the Chargers on Thursday night, the reeling team will drop the hammer early. The Bolts announced the firings of Brandon Staley and Tom Telesco on Friday morning.

The Chargers have since announced the promotion of Giff Smith and JoJo Wooden to respectively replace Staley and Telesco on an interim basis. The former has experience as a D-line coach dating back to 1999, and he has been in the organization since 2016. Over the past two seasons, though, he has worked as the team’s outside linebackers coach. This will be Smith’s first appointment as a head coach at the college or pro level.

Wooden, meanwhile, has been with the Chargers for the past decade. He has served with the title of player personnel director after working his way through the ranks in the Jets’ scouting department from 1997 to 2012. Like Smith, he will now oversee the conclusion of a highly disappointing campaign for the Bolts before potentially garnering consideration for the full-time role.

This is the first instance of the Chargers firing a head coach in-season since they axed Kevin Gilbride 25 years ago. But Staley has long been expected to be out, with the Bolts regressing in a season following a 27-point collapse in the wild-card round. Telesco spent 11 years as the Chargers’ GM. While much-hyped rosters formed under his watch, the team did not turn well-regarded transactions into sustained success.

Hired in 2021, Staley came over after one season as the Rams’ defensive coordinator. But the ascendant assistant could not establish success in this area with the Chargers. The Raiders dropping 63 on their rivals, 42 of those points coming in the first half, after the Vikings had held them scoreless in Week 15 prompted Bolts ownership to act early.

Telesco backed Staley following the Jaguars’ wild-card rally, which doubled as the third-biggest postseason deficit ever overcome, and the “what if?” involving Sean Payton is worth examining. The then-FOX analyst was linked to being interested in the Chargers job at multiple points last year. The move would have allowed Payton to stay in Los Angeles. But Telesco kept Staley, continuing a Chargers trend of keeping coaches beyond two seasons.

Staley is now the first Bolts HC to lose his job after less than four full seasons since the team fired Mike Riley following the 2001 campaign. Even Riley, who did not produce a winning season, lasted longer than Staley. But the alarming Week 15 performance opened the door to the Bolts needing to cut the cord now. As the team began to struggle this season, Chargers president John Spanos — a previous Staley advocate — began to distance himself from the embattled HC,’s Armando Salguero notes. The Spanoses will now begin to look for Staley’s replacement in an offseason that will remind of 2013, when the Bolts replaced both their HC and GM.

The Telesco news represents a bigger-picture development. The former Colts exec had hired Mike McCoy, Anthony Lynn and Staley during his run as GM. Telesco’s drafts brought difference-makers in Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen, Derwin James, Rashawn Slater and Justin Herbert. Telesco did well to leave no gaps between star quarterbacks, selecting Herbert sixth overall a month after Philip Rivers departed in free agency. Telesco, 51, also hammered out a through-2029 Herbert extension this offseason. The quarterback’s presence will make both the new Bolts vacancies attractive, but rampant underachievement has defined this team for much of the 21st century.

Even before the Raiders’ rout, Telesco was rumored to be on the chopping block. Dean Spanos will opt to not let Telesco hire a fourth HC. The three he hired combined for just three playoff appearances in 11 seasons. The Chargers, who had sustained success under Marty Schottenheimer and the early part of Norv Turner‘s ensuing HC run, have not ventured to back-to-back playoff brackets since the 2008-09 seasons. Despite Rivers playing his final seven Chargers seasons during Telesco’s tenure, the potential Hall of Famer only piloted the Bolts to two playoff brackets in that span. The Chargers won postseason games in 2013 and ’18 and were on track to eliminate the Jags last season, but success proved fleeting for squads that seemed to annually generate buzz.

After hiring offense-oriented coaches in 2013 and ’17, Telesco chose Staley’s defensive acumen to pair with Herbert in 2021. The Chargers managed to produce the AFC’s Pro Bowl starting quarterback and miss the playoffs. That had not happened in the AFC since the 1989 Bengals. Herbert put up dazzling numbers in 2021, but a Week 18 loss to the Raiders led to the budding superstar’s season wrapping early. A rib injury last September limited Herbert, and Staley fired OC Joe Lombardi following the playoff season. Two-year DC Renaldo Hill left to rejoin Vic Fangio in Miami this offseason.

Following a 2021 season that featured the Bolts ranking 29th in points allowed, Staley made a push for the team to equip him with better defensive personnel in 2022. The team traded for Khalil Mack and signed J.C. Jackson and Sebastian Joseph-Day. The Mack trade belatedly panned out, with the former Raiders and Bears standout rebounding for 15 sacks this season. The five-year, $82.5MM Jackson contract proved disastrous for the Chargers, who sent the underperforming cornerback back to the Patriots for next to nothing earlier this season.

The Chargers had made Jackson a healthy scratch in Week 3. Even after the round of defensive reinforcements, Staley’s 2022 defense ranked 20th; after last night’s Raider rampage, his third Charger defense ranks 29th. Last season’s Jacksonville catastrophe also featured the Bolts lining up without Mike Williams, who was injured in a meaningless Week 18 game against the Broncos. Staley and Telesco each defended the decision to leave starters in that contest deep into the second half, but the Chargers — who have struggled with receiver health over the past two seasons — suffered the consequences of Williams’ absence a week later. As the Chargers swooned in the wake of the playoff debacle, they lost Herbert to a season-ending finger injury.

Herbert’s status will naturally drive interest in this position, and some around the league are monitoring the Chargers as a Bill Belichick suitor. The Bolts would likely need to trade for the Patriots legend, and it would be interesting to see if this gains traction. A short-term Belichick-Herbert pairing would draw interest for a franchise that has struggled to establish itself in L.A., while such a move would also be a zag after Telesco made inexperienced coordinators — in Staley and Lynn — his HC choices. But we are still a ways away from the Belichick market taking shape.

Regardless of where the Chargers go from here, their next regime will be responsible for undoing some of the damage this era brought. The organization’s reputation for letdowns pushed “Chargering” into the NFL lexicon. In a division with Payton and Patrick Mahomes, the Bolts suddenly have more ground to make up despite striking gold with Herbert.

Adam La Rose contributed to this post.

Staff Notes: Tomsula, Callahan, Bills, Broncos

Jim Tomsula was out of football this season after a 5-11 campaign as San Francisco’s head coach in 2015, but it appears he’s about to resurface. The Redskins are targeting Tomsula, tweets Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, though he doesn’t specify which position the 48-year-old would take in Washington. It seems likely Tomsula would coach the Redskins’ D-line, though, considering he held that role with the Niners from 2007-14. The Redskins have an opening there thanks to the firing of Robb Akey earlier this month.

More on several coaching staffs:

  • Newly minted Rams head coach Sean McVay has already reeled in one experienced coordinator in defensive chief Wade Phillips, and he could next add one on offense in Bill Callahan, reports Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson (Twitter link). Callahan is currently the Redskins’ offensive line coach – McVay, of course, was their offensive coordinator – and has been a coordinator in both Oakland and Dallas.
  • Along with officially hiring Leslie Frazier as their new defensive coordinator, the Bills announced the additions of Juan Castillo (offensive line coach/run game coordinator) and Bob Babich (linebackers) to their coaching staff Friday. They’ll also retain special teams coach Danny Crossman for a fifth season. Castillo, who spent the past four years with the Ravens, was previously a longtime staff member in Philadelphia – where he became familiar with new Bills head coach Sean McDermott. Babich coached the Chargers’ linebackers this past season, which came after a three-year run as the Jaguars’ defensive coordinator.
  • The Broncos have a couple candidates for their special teams coach job in Marwan Maalouf and Derius Swinton II, per Mike Klis of 9News (Twitter links). The Dolphins granted the Broncos permission to interview Maalouf, who’s Miami’s assistant special teams coach. Heading to Denver would mean once again working on the same staff as rookie head coach Vance Joseph, who was the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator in 2016. Swinton is currently the 49ers’ special teams coach, but his future there is in doubt with a new head coach on the way. He worked as the Broncos’ assistant special teams coach from 2013-14.
  • The Browns have hired DeWayne Walker to coach their defensive backs, according to Nate Ulrich of Walker was in Jacksonville as its DBs coach over the past four years. In going to Cleveland, he’ll reunite with Browns head coach Hue Jackson and new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Walker worked with each of them in previous stops.
  • Chargers defensive line coach Giff Smith, defensive backs coach Ron Milus and assistant DBs coach Chris Harris will remain in place under Anthony Lynn, relays Sporting News’ Alex Marvez (Twitter link). They could end up on the defensive staff of Gus Bradley, who will interview for the Bolts’ D-coordinator job.

Chargers Hire Ken Whisenhunt As OC

FRIDAY, 5:16pm: The Chargers have officially confirmed Whisenhunt’s return, and announced four other changes to Mike McCoy‘s coaching staff. They are as follows:

  • Craig Aukerman (special teams coordinator)
  • Nick Sirianni (WR coach)
  • Giff Smith (DL coach)
  • Shane Steichen (QB coach)

WEDNESDAY, 2:27pm: The Chargers may not know yet where they’ll be playing in 2016, but they now know who will be running the team’s offense. According to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune, former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is returning to the Chargers to assume the same role, replacing Frank Reich.Ken Whisenhunt

[RELATED: Chargers fire offensive coordinator Frank Reich]

Whisenhunt previously served as San Diego’s offensive coordinator during the 2013 season, Mike McCoy’s first as the team’s head coach. The Chargers finished that year with a modest 9-7 record, but won a playoff game, and featured an extremely productive offense. After ranking 24th in the NFL in offensive DVOA in 2012, the Chargers placed second under Whisenhunt in 2013, per Football Outsiders.

In 2014, Reich’s first year as offensive coordinator, San Diego fell from second in offensive DVOA to 11th. The team slipped to 15th in 2015, and also went from scoring nearly 25 points per game in 2013 to just 20 this season, despite the fact that Philip Rivers led the NFL in passing completions (437) and attempts (661). Reich was let go by the Chargers a day after the regular season ended.

Whisenhunt, meanwhile, spent most of the last two years in Tennessee as head coach of the Titans. However, after finishing 2-14 in his first year with the club, he led the team to a 1-6 mark this season before receiving his walking papers.

With the Chargers in need of a new offensive coordinator and Whisenhunt looking for a new job, a reunion made too much sense for the two sides to pass up the opportunity.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.